Kurdistan’s First International Conference: Social Work and the Professional Identity
Recognising the Importance of Social Work to Help Build a Brighter Future for All

April 29-30, 2024 – Sulaimani, Iraq: The University of Sulaimani, the University of Salahaddin-Hawler, and SEED Foundation successfully concluded the International Social Work Conference in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq; welcoming over 1,000 individuals, including over 70 researchers, from the United States, Tanzania, Germany, Sweden, Egypt, and Iraq, to discuss the need to critically invest and grow the field of Social Work for the betterment of society.
Prof. Dr. Kosar Mohammed Ali, President of University of Sulaimani opened the event, thanking the organization committee for their commitment to helping the most vulnerable people through their field, “We have great hope in your research and your efforts. You are important everywhere; in our hospitals, police stations, schools…and in all society.”

Prof. Dr. Qader Mohammed Hassan, Dean of College of Arts, from Salahaddin University, also welcomed guests, “This scientific partnership with the University of Sulaimani comes just following the 50th anniversary of the attacks on the university campus in Qaladze. People stepped up to help the injured. That is social work; helping people.” Sherri Kraham Talabany, President and Executive Director of SEED Foundation concluded the opening remarks on behalf of the organizers.

In a keynote address, Kwestan Mohammed Abdullah Marouf, Minister of Labor and Social Affairs, highlighted the important role that social workers play in serving the ministry – through services delivered in prisons, orphanages, women’s shelters, elder care facilities, and centers for children and adults with special needs. “We are in desperate need of more mental health practitioners [including social workers]…in some correctional facilities we have over 2,000 inmates and only 20 social workers. It is impossible for them to meet expectations under so much pressure…and without support we see a higher instance of repeat criminality after release,” shared Minister Marouf. “We need your graduates to fill the gap in emotional support and care, and we call on them to work with us.” Minister Marouf was followed by Professor Martin O’Reilly, Kampala International University in Tanzania, who highlighted the need to break the stigma around accepting help and innovate to serve all generations and across cultures; emphasizing the power of social work to help people help themselves.

This conference was developed as a part of a 4-year long partnership between SEED Foundation and the two universities – the only two to offer a Social Work program in the Kurdistan Region. “To ensure the people of Kurdistan get access to the care they need, SEED is investing in Strengthening the qualifications of the helping professions in partnership with public universities. This scientific conference aims to distinguish social work, inform updates to educational curricula, and define professional standards, enhancing the profession’s visibility and impact on society. SEED is committed to helping make the best educational experience for future social workers and to establishing a professional identity for social workers that is given its deserved prominence,” SEED’s President shared.

In addition to the conference, SEED completed an assessment of the Social Work program in each of the universities, delivering a report which highlighted key gaps and opportunities for improvement. Following the reports, SEED delivered pedagogy workshops to develop the teaching practices of the faculty members, hosted a number of refresher and introductory sessions for students on key topics including: case management, technology-facilitated violence, interview and communication skills; and gifted a number of critical academic texts and books to enrich the learning environment. The partnership also resulted in on-going work to re-envision the curriculum for both universities, to closer align them in content, language, and structure. This was the subject of a multi-session workshop hosted during the conference; and will continue over the course of the year before being presented to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research for approval.

The conference invited submissions from researchers and academics from around the world, with 38 papers selected for presentation during the conference. The research explored subjects ranging from the decolonization of psychosocial science in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq, to the impacts of technology on youth, commodification of women’s bodies, self-immolation, and the development of social work as a field – including the role of social workers in schools and camps, and to support individuals with special needs.

The papers presented during the conference underscore the challenges, opportunities, and role of social work in various facets of society; and will be compiled into a journal for publication in English and Kurdish in the coming months.

Reflecting on the goal of the conference, Dr. Pave Jamil Ahmad, Dean of College of Humanities, Sulaimani University shared “Social Work and harmony in society is a basic foundation for a better quality of life for all. We hope that this conference becomes a platform to facilitate innovation and inspire others to serve humanity.”

The organization committee thanks KurdSat for its sponsorship of the inaugural event, providing important coverage of the opening ceremony, keynote addresses, and interviews with key organizers and presenters.
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